When Philip Chiroma, a Community Health Worker (CHW) from Akiriamet Community Unit first learnt about how to prevent Trachoma, he was skeptic about his ability to convince his community of the same.
“One key thing you learn in the Trachoma topic is the importance of hygiene. In order to maintain hygiene, you need water, and water is a scarce resource in Kadungdung Village in Akiriamet in West Pokot,” he narrates.
Due to geographical and cultural limitations, communities in West Pokot do not value the importance of hygiene. One dire consequence of lack of proper hygiene is the high prevalence rate of Trachoma, a chronic eye condition caused by Chlamydia Trachomatis bacterium, in the county. The bacterium produces a component that roughens the inner surface of the eyelids, causing eye lashes to invert making the simple and involuntary act of blinking painful. The disease is spread through contact with eye discharge from an infected person. Amref Health Africa, through Leap, the mHealth platform, and in partnership with Sight-Savers through Kenya Trachoma Elimination Programme, has trained 141 CHVs in West Pokot, in a pilot project, on symptoms and preventative measures of Trachoma.
A few days after completing his lessons through Leap, Philip met an old village elder on his way to the market. “He had covered his eyes and from what I had learnt up to that point, I suspected he had Trachoma,” Philip remembers. The passion and dedication he has as a Community Health Worker (CHW) pushed him to speak to the old man. “I asked him whether I could inspect his eyes, and he agreed. They were red, and the eye lashes were inverted. It was then that I confirmed that he had Trachoma,” Philip adds.
The father of six took it upon himself to walk with the old man to his household, where he explained to him about his role as a CHW. “The old man had never heard of CHWs so I had to explain it to him. Luckily, his son came by and confirmed to his father that CHWs work for the benefit of the community,” explains Philip.
It was then that the old man agreed to go to hospital with Philip to get further tests done on his eyes. “There was an eye camp near our village, so I took him there. He was assessed and it was confirmed that he had Trachoma. He underwent a successful surgery one day later and can now see very well,” asserts Philip.
The experience made Philip less worried about the scarcity of water in his village, and more proactive towards finding solutions to help lower Trachoma prevalence. “I decided to put into practice the Boma model, which I learnt through the mHealth platform. I started it in my household and when my neighbours saw how clean my homestead looked, they also adopted the model. The leaky tin is also very relevant as it helps use very little water,” he adds. Philip has so far referred nine other patients of whom seven were assessed and confirmed to be suffering from Trachoma.
“I still go from one household to another assessing hygiene levels and looking out for cases of Trachoma. I urge the partners involved to organise another eye clinic as many CHWs in the area have identified people suffering from Trachoma and do not know where to refer them to as the local health facilities do not offer Trachoma surgeries,” Philip concludes.
Michelle Dibo – Communications, Amref Health Africa.